The UK’s Health Research Authority (HRA) is moving to the next stage of its efforts to unify and streamline the country’s research-approvals process, with a pilot study of a single application and validation point for project reviews by NHS Research and Development (R&D) Departments and Research Ethics Committees (RECs).

The small live pilot in the North West of England will enable the HRA to explore the feasibility of a single application point as an essential platform for a consolidated assessment to support REC opinions and local NHS decision-making, it explained.

Feasibility testing in other areas of assessment will be approached on topic-by-topic basis (e.g., pharmacy, radiation, contracting, Research Passports). “This is in recognition that the issues, and people from whom we will need to gain buy-in locally, will be different in the different areas of assessment,” the HRA said.

Duplication of effort

The agency announced last autumn that it was launching a feasibility project to explore how pre-assessment by the HRA might address long-held concerns about, and frustrations at, the duplication of effort in research gaining approvals from the National Health Service.

At the time, the agency stressed that it would not be making decisions about research on behalf of NHS Trusts. Rather, the aim was to look at the feasibility of a “quality-assured assessment provided by HRA that enables providers to make efficient local decisions on participation based on capacity and capability”.

In other words, the idea was not so much to centralise existing assessments as to filter out elements of the current review procedures in a way that might improve both study set-up times and the quality and consistency of ethical reviews.  

Issues with policies

Announcing the single-assessment pilot, the HRA said it was “aware that there are issues with policies in some NHS organisations, where the arrangements for standard healthcare practice do not support participation in research”.

The agency intends to engage with NHS staff in human resources, information governance and other relevant areas to “investigate and address” these issues.
It will also continue looking at opportunities for “quick wins, ahead of the potential implementation of a HRA assessment”.